November 2, 2010, Tokyo.
It was the trip of my dreams – almost. I’ve finally learnt, after having travelled to Japan so many times, that while a person can definitely visit this beautiful country on a budget, one must have deep pockets to really have a good time. To be honest, this trip almost didn’t materialise. If it weren’t for the special rates I was so privileged to have received, there wouldn’t be an Autumn Tokyo this year. Thank you, JAL. Love you muchly.
JAL started a new flight on October 31 headed for Haneda’s new International Terminal instead Narita, its old home. It was my first time landing at Haneda, as far as I can recall, and I was a little pouty about having to adjust to the new arrival time and the time it would take to reach the city – 17 minutes instead of an hour and a half! What are we gonna do so early in the morning?
We took the Monorail—again, my first time—out of the terminal, and switched trains at Hamamatsucho to get to Shinjuku. The sun was just starting to peep out from the clouds, so although we were tired from staying awake on the plane all night, the beautiful view from the Monorail was a sight for sore eyes. There are trains and buses that can get you to the city too, but I’d recommend taking the Monorail at least once. (Tip: you get a really good view of the Rainbow Bridge.)
I have to say I am incredibly impressed at how the Japanese have put away their disdain for the English language and learnt to speak it so well. 10 years ago, they ran away shyly when I approached them for directions, but we were incredibly lucky this time to encounter a cabbie who spoke excellent English. I was at first dismayed that I was unable to show him the map that I had saved on my phone, but he heard the name of the (not yet famous) hotel and immediately knew where it was. I could have kissed the back of his white-gloved hands for his cleverness.
Unlike all other times, I planned this trip around food. I decided I had enough of substandard 500-yen ramen and meatless kare raisu, and shall, from hereon, always treat myself to good Japanese food. After all, I can always get the former anywhere in Singapore. So, expect quite a bit of food pics.
We started our food-filled day at Sendagaya. From my research, I found a cafe, called Good Morning Cafe, that opens at 6 a.m., which was perfect for us. I ordered a simple breakfast set that didn’t really fill me up, but it was pretty and it was a really nice cafe to hang out for a while. One of the guys there spoke perfect English. I’m definitely going back. We then went to nearby Shibuya for a Hachiko and Domo-kun pilgrimage. Reminder to self: must try taking the Hachiko Community Bus next time. And we tried Freshness Burger. I can’t believe I’ve never had it! But oh well, they’re opening at NEX Shopping Mall, so I can have it anytime I want now.
We went back to the hotel after lunch so that we could check in and take a nap. Sleep came really easily. It was a struggle to wake up when the alarm rang but we couldn’t waste the day! We went walking leisurely around Shinjuku trying to get our bearings, since this was going to be our neighbourhood for the next few days. For dinner, we settled for an izakaya. We would have passed it by if it weren’t for the staff handing us brochures and speaking rapidly in Japanese. 和民 has always been my go-to izakaya because they have many outlets all over Tokyo (don’t bother about the ones in Singapore) and the food is always varied and plenty. We tried somewhere different this time. This place is slightly more expensive, but the food’s good. I don’t know if I can find my way there again, though, Shinjuku being the labyrinth it is. The good thing is, food’s never scarce in Shinjuku.